Need for real change
HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes (The Philippine Star) - August 2, 2020 - 12:00am

In his penultimate State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Duterte took a swipe at the oligarchs who have pervaded Philippine society and amassed vast amounts of wealth at the expense of millions of Filipinos.

The President  said their  great wealth  has enabled them to influence public policy to their advantage, citing as an example the Lopezes who he said used their media outlets in their battles with political figures.

Duterte even cited himself as an example of how the Lopezes used their vast media network in an attempt to malign his character and thwart his victory in the 2016 elections.

For his part, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano pointed out how oligarchs in the country use their wealth  to gain power, while the political elite, on the other hand, use their power to amass wealth.

Cayetano said he wants to change the current system, where the people willingly consent to being held back by the few who control the economy, and through that, the running of the nation.

He pointed out that the real threat to the stability of the country’s socio, political, and economic ecosystems are those backroom deals that make exploitation legal, adding that there is a quiet acquiescing to a system that naturally favors the ultra rich and very powerful.

The President and Cayetano underscored the need to free the country from the tight grip of oligarchs on various aspects of society, and how the need for this drastic change should begin now.

Duterte, during his campaign for the presidency in 2016, said the corruption in the Bureau of Customs and Bureau of Internal Revenue was small change or barya compared to the high-level corruption that runs in the billions among the economic elite.

There are those who think otherwise, saying that business oligarchs do not pose a threat to the country’s future. Instead, it is the political dynasties are the real threat.

To this, those running after the oligarchs say that unlike these dynasties which were elected by the people, business oligarchs who dip their hands in politics and use their money and influence to sway government policies in their favor were not.

Supporters of the President counter that to be fair, the President has given credit where credit is due, when he acknowledged those who they did their part in helping the government especially in this time of the coronavirus-induced crisis. It is their abuses that the President abhors, they said.

Cayetano meanwhile added that that not all oligarchs are bad nor do they start off wanting to own or control everything. He explained that just like every entrepreneur wanting to expand their business, these would-be oligarchs might very well have started off with the most benign, even benevolent intentions. However, he said that the malignant DNA of unabated, uncontrolled capitalism, especially corporate capitalism, eventually comes to play, leading to people and systems being abused and exploited.

But Cayetano noted that the situation is not hopeless, pointing out that the system can be changed by acknowledging that there is a problem. He explained that this is a battle between those who are willing to fight their self-interest and change with the system, versus those who deny that there is anything wrong with the status quo, specifically as it relates to themselves, and instead simply choose to blame the politicians and officials in government.

Oligarchy is defined as government of a few, with power exercised by a small and privileged group for corrupt or selfish purposes, a condition in which political and economic power is concentrated in a small elite group. Undeniably, in the Philippines, there is great wealth inequality and political exclusion of the vast majority, with a few privileged families and groups controlling power. As correctly observed by some, the country has a fundamentally weak democracy that allows policies of patronage and crony capitalism. Only the rich generally get to run for public office because let’s face it, the people allow it, rather than electing candidates based on capability.

Let us just hope that the President’s rampage against the old oligarchs is not just a means to create new ones as claimed by some quarters. It will be quite unfortunate if the sacrifices made so far in dismantling some strongholds, such as unemployment of those who just happened to work for these powerful few, will be wasted just because of lack of sincerity in changing the system.

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